Cool Tool of the Week:

Kudos to our campus director, Allisha Lee, for tipping me off to this cool site. opens with a banner declaring itself to be “the world’s marketplace for visual content” and invites us to “tell your story visually.” Allisha thought of us here at pleasureinlearning when she saw the big spinning brain at “Your Brain Map: Strategies for Accelerated Learning.”


  If you teach anatomy, neuroscience, or psychology…or if you’re just passionate about learning and want to know more about your own brain…this page will keep you busy for quite awhile. The controls are a little tricky at first (at least for this aging brain), but once I figured out how to access what was offered, I had a lot of fun clicking and spinning. Don’t miss the module about the neuron and the role of various transmitters…interesting stuff.  I’m looking forward to the free download that the site offers, too.

Sadly, the tool won’t play on your tablet or phone, so commandeer a full-sized machine.


Happy Teacher, Happy Students

karenYesterday’s edition of Slate Magazine featured sponsored content from the University of California’s UC Breakthroughs. The post, one of a six-part series “covering groundbreaking innovations that are pushing the boundaries of science today,” asked a provocative question:

“Have Researchers Discovered The Secret of Happiness?”

I’m always up for some tips on being happier, especially in my role as a community college teacher.  In fact, that’s what pleasureinlearning is all about.  We’re committed to the notion that students who enjoy learning will want to learn more, will be more likely to remain in school, and are more likely to make successful transitions to careers or higher education.  What can I learn from the work of Sonya Lyubormirsky, professor of psychology at UC Riverside? And how can I integrate those “secrets of happiness” into my students’ classroom experience?

thankfulLyubormirsky first advises keeping a gratitude journal, but she cautions against overdoing it.  Volunteers who recorded reasons for gratitude once weekly became happier, but increasing the dosage to three times weekly turned the activity into a chore. My students enjoy learning about their bodies’ amazing capabilities..and I certainly enjoy sharing that information…but I can’t oversell every bit of physiology as “astonishing” or “unbelievable.” Regular, gentle invitations to appreciate the workings of the body are well received.

Up next, simple acts of kindness. The delivery of a small gift or a compliment generated gains in the happiness of both givers and receivers. HappinessIt doesn’t take much effort to write “Better!” on a quiz paper or to acknowledge a perceptive comment during class discussion. Greeting students by name and acknowledging their personal struggles and victories pay big dividends. My students may be adults, but they still covet the tiny smiley-face stickers that top perfect quiz papers. They enjoy the occasional in-class raffle for educational goodies I collect. They compete for the privilege of raiding the candy can at break.

Finally, the experimenters discovered the power of “What Went Well.” When subjects recorded three things that had gone well each week, they were happier, they were more active, more sociable, and their work output improved.  A teacher can help students discover what’s going well in a class by An emoticon with a smile. For more emoticons i...pointing out how much students have learned “since you walked in the door this morning.” I like to tease my students about how smart they’re going to sound when they flaunt their latest tongue-twisting terms at their family dinner table. I interrupt tough stretches of work for “pat yourself on the back breaks.” I invite them to share the ways that they’ve used their newly minted knowledge at the doctor’s office or in deciphering a news story or medical television show. I openly share my pride in their development.

I’m not sure that the UC Davis researchers have actually discovered the secrets of happiness. Maybe the secrets boil down to treating others as you would like to be treated…I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard that before.

Tech Tuesday: KISS Series, Part 5

Each Tuesday, pleasureinlearning brings you Tech Tuesday.  Come back each week for more ways to become efficient and effective in your use of technology. 


This article is part of a multi-part series aligned with the KISS principle.  If you missed the first few posts, take time to read the series from the beginning.

There are a lot of folks who would argue about the usefulness of an Intro to Computers class.  Interestingly, none of them are among my former students.  One of the tips I often have the privilege of sharing with my students is that the tab key on your keyboard takes you to the next box in most forms.  For example, if you type in your username, you can simply press tab to take you to the box for entering your password.

Click here to go to the next post in this series.

Glider Fascination

MyB pic dad amazed me the first time he made a paper airplane and sailed it across the room. I couldn’t wait to make my own and experiment with wing size and fins. With a little effort and folding technology, much pleasure ensues in a wide or tall room. Outside, the issue becomes finding the breeze that doesn’t grab the plane and nosedive it into the ground without a nice ride first.

English: Paper airplane

Then came the fascination with fish gliding back and forth in the bowl. The movements looked serene and definite, as if full of reflection. From fish, it was on to birds and planes in the sky. The higher they are, the more silent and mysterious they appear.

Learning has its gliding aspect though it can take longer with a more complicated subject to get into the gliding. An old mentor who used to like talking about spontaneity often said, “What you take, takes you.” He would use learning a language as an example. At first, a sense of self-consciousness is predominant and the sense of detail and tedium. The unfamiliar and awkward feelings can bring the eruption, “Will I ever get this?”

Fish bowl

Fish bowl (Photo credit: ktgeek)

Perseverance has its magic moment. At an unpredicted moment, the gliding starts. What we took, takes us. How did it happen? Brain science can say, but experience still marvels at dis-ease becoming ease.

Watching others glide when we’re not gliding provokes feelings ranging from envy to new determination to emulate them. “Can I glide?” Why sure, don’t hold back.

A few summers ago, my family visited the Wright Brothers’ site in Kitty Hawk, NC.

English: A photograph of Orville Wright in his...

English: A photograph of Orville Wright in his glider at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1911.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was the simple looking shop and the long runway still green and open all around where the two brothers failed an inordinate number of times before theory and practice merged into the gasps of eureka over that first sustained flight that wouldn’t quite make three football fields today.

We’re made to want to glide. It’s the fascination we have with the spontaneous and effortless movement in a desired medium. I’ve thought about what ignites the quest. Yes, I’ve thought about it a lot.

Ending on an Up Note: Grateful for My Teachers

autumnMaybe it’s because the brisk fall air promises that Thanksgiving will soon be here, but I always find it easier to count my blessings in the autumn. And now that I’m in that metaphorically autumnal season of life, I more often recall with gratitude all the teachers who’ve given of themselves so that I could have the pleasure of learning.  Today I’m thankful for:

  • My mom, who taught me the names of colors, so I can describe the leaves
  • My elementary teachers, who invited me to learn the names of the trees by assigning leaf collections
  • My high school teachers, who taught me about the pigments in leaves and the process of photosynthesis
  • My college chemistry teachers, who taught me that leaves have colors because leaf pigments absorb and reflect light at different wavelengths…and the physics teachers who explained why the sky is blue, making a perfect backdrop.
  • My kids, who taught me that no matter how much of that other stuff you’ve learned, the greatest pleasure offered by leaves is jumping into a big, freshly-raked pile of them.

Enjoy your weekend.

Super Site of the Week: Smithsonian

I’m not sure how we’ve missed this one, but I’m certainly glad to have found it. Last week mental_floss magazine’s website featured a post, “5 Cool Things We Learned from The Incredible Bionic Man.”  The piece included a link to the Smithsonian Channel’s 46-minute video, which is truly, well, incredible.  Since I was already at the page, I snooped a bit for items related to my subject area, anatomy & physiology.


Right away, I found a biotechnology article on the making of Humulin, the synthetic form of human insulin. A link on that page led to a piece about the advent of synthetic growth hormone, and the strange and tragic situation that necessitated its creation.  Honestly, today in class, I had shared that story with my second-semester students.  I’m not sure they believed me, but now I have some very accessible and readable proof.

Of course, the Smithsonian literally has something for everyone, no matter what subject or grade level you teach.  There are also many links to outside resources. I click, click, clicked my way to a story about the world’s largest eyeball which belongs to the giant squid. I plan to go back for a visit to “Seriously Amazing,” which tests your “SI-Q” in a quiz format.

This is a site no proudly self-proclaimed geek should miss. Start your tour at Smithsonian.

Are We Too Good at This Game?

karenAfter teaching for a while at our community college, I noticed that my classes usually include students who are inherently intelligent and earnestly hard-workng, but not as successful in the classroom as they should be. What is the problem here? The October 7th edition of Annie Murphy Paul’s monthly newsletter The Brilliant Report offers an explanation. These students haven’t become experts at learning how to learn. Paul explains it this way:

“To put it in more straightforward terms, anytime a student learns, he or she has to bring in two kinds of prior knowledge: knowledge about the subject at hand (say, mathematics or history) and knowledge about how learning works.”

Too many community college students don’t have that critical understanding of how learning works. If instructors recognize that deficiency, we should be able to help our students become more proficient at learning how to learn, right?  But it’s harder than you might think, this business of teaching someone how to learn. The problem, I think, is a dirty little secret: most of us were good at it.

Of course, no one…or at least no one that you’d want to have lunch with…is going to come right out and say, “You know, I was pretty good at this school thing. Still am, as a matter of fact.” It simply isn’t done.  But, deep down, we know that we were the kids who figured out early on which circles to blacken with our #2 pencils. We just sort of knew what would be on the test. And we figured out how to stash that information in our brain bins, at least until the exams were over. Now don’t protest that it isn’t so. None of us ended up in our jobs by being lousy at learning.

And that’s what makes it hard for us to help our students. We take it for granted that college students have mastered the tricks that we don’t even remember learning. Don’t they realize that re-reading a chapter five times is not a viable pre-test strategy? No. That re-reading their class notes five times doesn’t guarantee a good grade? No. That making 200 flash cards and draining six highlighters is not the same as learning? No.

English: Students need sleep in order to study.

Can we help them do better? YES! If we consciously make the effort to teach learning strategies as we teach our discipline-specific material, our value to students doubles. The first step in doing this is the hardest: realizing what we know about learning that our students don’t. Fortunately, Paul offers some suggestions from researcher Helen Askell-Williams, an expert in international student proficiency.  Some strategies are intended for students, while others can be implemented by teachers.

First up for students: Make drawings or diagrams. (See? You’ve been doing this forever, haven’t you?) Students may need some encouragement and an example. Today in my A&P class we reviewed the two parts of the pituitary gland. Students learned how the parts differed in origin, in their connection to the supervising hypothalamus, and what hormones are released from which part. I might ask students to look away from their books and notes, then sketch a diagram that includes as much of that information as they can recall. When students see that this helps them navigate the swamp that is our endocrine system, they realize that diagramming is a viable strategy.

English: Robert Wadlow posing with his mother ...

First up for teachers: Make the topic of the lesson clear. I don’t think it’s very inviting to announce, “Now we will study growth hormone.” I prefer to lure students to the topic with a bell ringer question: “How tall was the world’s tallest man?” illustrated with a photo of the late Robert Wadlow. I can follow up with a short list of objectives for the next learning session.

In subsequent posts, I’ll take a look at some of the other suggestions offered in The Brilliant Blog, and consider how they might be used in our classes. We’d love to hear your thoughts, too.